Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Are We There Yet? Are We There Yet?

I find it amusing that I have been able to fill two blog posts with only my drive to the airport and my flight to Vancouver, when really, the truly interesting parts of my trip didn’t begin until I boarded my plane to Whitehorse.

I was quite taken with Vancouver’s airport, and enjoyed my hour stopover as I waited for my connecting flight.  I think it’s lovely how some airports feature regional artwork and sculptures – it made me feel less like a passenger being herded, and more like a visitor to a world class city.

Once I got on the plane to Whitehorse, however, the tone went from world class city to party time.  J

The first parallel to a crazy night out with fun friends was that right off the bat we lost 2 passengers.  Thinking back to the party nights of my university years, almost inevitably, every time we went out, one or two of our group would monkey off after something shiny in the club district downtown and we’d end up forming a tipsy search party for our friends.

I couldn’t help but be amused as I watched 5 airplane staff try to locate these 2 missing passengers, who had apparently boarded at the gate, but somehow were forcing the headcount to be off by 2.  It literally took 4 flight attendants, 1 person in a fluorescent vest, and I think a couple of helpful passengers to empty the bathrooms and come up with a headcount that satisfied the vest person, and after 20 minutes of counting heads, we were good to depart.

As the flight attendants did their final check of seatbelts and overhead compartments, one of the FA’s (see what a pro flyer I am now??!?  I learned this short form from the attendants on the flight.) noticed my knees knocking and asked if I was ok.  I confessed that I was a nervous flier, and she gave me a knowing smile and carried on down the aisle.

Well, Rochelle (I learned her name from the safety demonstration, much like our old friend, Jay) must have shared this information with the crew, because as soon as we lifted into the air and it was safe for the FA’s to move about the plane, they had all befriended me and introduced me to the belle of the skies… Coastal Ridge Chardonnay!

Lest I get any WestJet staff into trouble, they didn’t start this – I was definitely the instigator.  Most of my timid flying friends had recommended that I have a drink or two to calm my nerves.  But much to my delight, my new friends Rochelle and Randall kept my spirits high and my wine glass full!  And you know what?  I had my doubts - I am not a super frequent drinker - but it really did help!

The two of them had clearly worked many, many flights together. They had a back and forth bickering banter that kept me grinning from ear to ear.  They seemed to take a liking to me instantly and taught me how to use my flight mode on the plane to take pictures and moved into the seats in front and beside me to tell me their life stories and take pictures out the window with me.  Turns out they were from Ottawa, and rarely got the opportunity to work a flight up the B.C./Alaska coastline.

They would hop up regularly to do their work, but continued their onslaught of verbal sparring.  As Randall came through selling earbuds, he hollered at Rochelle, “CHOP CHOP! Get our friend here a chardonnay… stat!”  I smiled at her, and she rolled her eyes as he looked at me and joked, “She hasn’t done a THING since we took off… just sits there and eats airplane snacks.”  And then he snapped his fingers at her, as she stood there laughing with us and said, “HelllloooooOOOOooo!  Chardonnay??” 

“Oh, he’ll get his later!” she whispered as she came back with my wine.  As she went back to chat with Randall about their plans for later in the day, I couldn’t help but laugh as I heard him admonishing Rochelle and saying, “We are NOT going to the Old Spaghetti Factory.  What IS it with you and chain restaurants?  I swear, I can’t take you anywhere!” 

As the flight went on, Rochelle and Randall amused themselves by exploring my airline travel naiveté.  They thought it was a rarity to find someone who doesn’t fly often, and laughed pretty hard when I asked if it was ok to have another package of cookies.  They seemed proud that they were the ones who had opened up the world of laptop use and flight mode to me, not to mention the benefits of inflight wine service.

The wine, incidentally, is the only thing that I can hold responsible for the dozens of pictures of the GeoNova live trip map on the seat back in front of me.  Clearly, I thought that pictures of the live trip map were KEY to documenting my trip, and that they would make wonderful keepsakes of my time in the skies.  Snort.  Reminds me of my niece’s recent trip to Disneyworld – she literally took pictures of everything on the plane.  And when I say literally, I mean a picture of her gum in its wrapper sitting on her seatback tray.  And then a picture of the gum sitting in the opened wrapper.  And then a picture of the gum going into her mouth.  And then a picture of the airline snack.  And then a picture of the snack opened.  And then… well, you get my drift.  Here… peruse my lovely gallery. 

RUSSIA!  We're so close, I bet I
 could see Sarah Palin keeping vigil in
 Alaska if I look closely.  :-)
As our flight went on, I marvelled at the little roads between mountains.  Who lives there?  How do they get stuff?  Even if they are logging roads, how the heck did they decide where to put roads?  The enormity of Canada – heck, even British Columbia – struck me hard.   I even thought I could see glaciers as we flew along the coastal mountains.  My parents were always very good about providing learning experiences for us on vacations, and we had even taken a tour of a glacier once.  My parents were very diligent about helping us learn what created the mountains and what effects glaciers had on the geography of the country.  But really, there is a lot to be said for understanding this stuff as an adult, and not as a kid who is pretty much half paying attention and half wondering if the next campground will have a swimming pool. 

Once, when Ken and I were hanging around one weekend and I was looking at a map, I had a freak out (notice the underline?  It really was a freak out.) because I thought Canada was ripping through the middle and we were headed for the next big continental drift.  I started exclaiming things like, “Do the scientists know about this?  Has anyone noticed this!?” 

Kenny laughed and explained about glaciers and the trail of holes and grooves they left, and calmly assured me that the trail of large lakes were simply evidence that glaciers had retreated in a big way across this big land of ours.  Thinking back on that, and now seeing it first-hand from the sky… now I am awestruck.

And of course, with that awe came the nagging voice in my head that reminded me of my fear of flying.  You know what didn’t help?  The day before I left, one of Kaycie’s school friends looked at me and said, “You’re going in a plane?  Aren’t you afraid to fly?”  Luckily, my daughter saved me from what would certainly have been a rambling and disastrous answer on my part to that question, and boldly and confidently stated, “No, of course she isn’t!”  It’s a humbling question to be asked by a 6 year old!  Her little voice echoed in my head many times during this trip, but I was determined to prove my daughter right, so I looked out the window and simply decided to enjoy the view.

And what a view it was!!  As we made our descent into Whitehorse, I could see a mirror smooth river that reflected the mountains and clouds and blue skies perfectly.  A camera will never capture the feeling I had when I saw it.

I was taking pictures and smiling away, when the captain’s voice came on letting us know it was time to turn off laptops and cell phones.  I looked at Rochelle, and she quietly came over and told me I could keep taking pictures safely for a couple more minutes.  I could see that they were still snapping a few last minute pictures with their phones, so I eagerly snapped a few more.

As I put my phone away, I could feel the plane dipping forward and our descent became very pronounced.  It was time for my landing ritual, which is just as ridiculous as my take off ritual.  Lots of knee knocking and nervous smiles and seat belt tugging.  I looked around as we got closer and closer to the ground.  The rivers were insanely blue-green – in some cases almost fluorescent.  We got so close that I started memorizing landmarks in Whitehorse to ask Marlaine about when I got off the plane.  A dry docked boat… a certain river…. an unusual building.  In a few moments I would be standing on the soil of a part of Canada I had never visited before!  There was a layer of fog over a good part of the city, but parts that could be seen so clearly that the sunlight was bouncing off of the windshields of cars.  I held tight for that last part of the landing when…

Whooosh!  Suddenly I was forced by gravity back against my seat as the plane shot upwards into the sky.

Oh crap, oh crap, oh crap.  I left my phone on too long and I screwed up the electronics of the plane and now the landing gear is stuck permanently and what the hell happens when that happens?!?!?!!

My fingers tightened on my seatbelt and I tried to breath calmly.  I could hear Rochelle and Randall chuckling about something, so I reassured myself that if they didn’t think we were crashing, then chances were pretty good that we were going to survive this flight, and I could stop feeling guilty about my phone.

The captain’s voice again came over the loud speaker and he calmly said, “Well, as you probably noticed, we made an attempt to land in Whitehorse, but there is a patch of thick fog right over the airport, and our first attempt to land had to be abandoned.  We are hopeful that the fog will burn off shortly, and we will return to make a second attempt once we get the go ahead from the control tower.”

“Probably noticed?”  Ummm… that was pretty hard to NOT notice.  It kind of felt like being on one of these dealios when we made our first atttempt!

Down... and right back up!
So, for the next 45 minutes, we did the equivalent of circling a shopping mall parking lot, waiting for that perfect, fog-free parking spot to open up right near the front entrance!

I should mention that as soon as the captain finished his announcement, Rochelle and Randall came right over to see how I was.  Turns out they had been debating the whole time between our failed landing and the captain’s announcement whether or not to come tell me that everything was fine.  Randall said that he’s a nervous flier too, and he stopped Rochelle from coming over because, “It’s ALWAYS better NOT to know.”  Well, I didn’t disagree with Randall outwardly.  I, of course, energetically nodded my head in agreement, while joking about my failed landing gear theory.  In reality, though, I seriously disagreed!  Even if they did have to stay strapped into their seats in the galley, a little smile from the FA headquarters, and a secretive pantomiming of, “ALL OK.  WINGS STILL ON PLANE.” would have gone a long way in soothing my inner screaming!

So, we circled over what I assume must have been parts of Yukon and parts of Alaska, since the cartoon plane on our live flight screens seemed to be doing fancy loops, circles and figure eights between Anchorage and Whitehorse.  I am pretty sure I saw Mount Logan, which was cool!  At least I was getting my money’s worth from this trip! 

Oh famous last words…

I felt us make a determined descent again.  This time, I triple checked that anything electronic in my immediate vicinity was turned off, and I watched out the window as we descended into Whitehorse for a second time.  I saw the roads and trees and cars and buses get closer and closer.  It felt like clear sailing ahead!  We were so close to the airport, when fog again brushed past my window, and the plane jolted upwards, accompanied by the groans of the passengers around me.

We ascended upwards and headed south.  I wondered to myself how many attempts they would make?  How much fuel can this jet hold?  Is there any place to land in a fog emergency?  Maybe they would land in Alaska and I could add that state to my list of new places I’d been!  As I confidently waited for the captain's voice to announce that we would make a third attempt, my musing was interrupted by the captain’s actual voice saying, “Well, as you can see, we made our second attempt to land, but folks, the fog is just sitting exactly over the Whitehorse airport, and we can’t make a landing.  Sooo, we’re headed back to Vancouver, and the time remaining in this flight is approximately 1 hour and 45 minutes.”

Say what?

My jaw dropped, and I looked around at the other passengers.  Half of them looked like I did, a quarter of them were laughing, just under a quarter of them seemed completely indifferent, and one woman looked like she was going to take down the captain with her bare hands.

I quickly turned around, so as not to incite any more fury in her.  For all I knew, she could have been a scopophobe.

Rochelle looked at me with bulging eyes, and Randall quickly assembled the team and whispered, “Ok, just unload the carts and give out as much free stuff as you can.”  Rochelle, walked by, handed me a mini bottle of wine, smiled and whispered, “Sorry, hon!”  Randall, came over and slid me a snack box of hummus and pita chips and whispered, “I noticed you liked these on the way up.  Have as many as you want.”

Strangely, I was ok with still being in the air.  My fear of flying had been replaced with thoughts of, “How will I cope in society without Rochelle and Randall!?”  These two anticipated all of my needs and had become a big part of my trip!  I just love how this fear trumped the faint whisperings in the back of my head saying, “You’re probably sleeping in an airport tonight!” and “You will never get to Whitehorse… EVER!”

So, with nothing else to do but fret about the future, I figured this was as good a time as any to focus on the past and start blogging about my trip, so I whipped out my laptop, and furiously barfed out my first post on this adventure.  It was such a relief to be blogging again!  I get such joy out of writing and experimenting with what makes people laugh.  The highest compliment I have received about my blog is that it is relatable – and that is what I aim to be:  so darn relatable that you will stop worrying about keeping up with the Jones’ and start worrying that you might be keeping up with me!  Yikes!  At least you’d be laughing all the way. 

Before I knew it, (which is pretty impressive, considering I’d just spent 10 hours in an airplane!) we were descending into Vancouver International Airport, which, for your information, was again, completely covered in fog except for the very tops of some tall towers.  It was haunting and beautiful, but also suddenly confusing, considering we couldn’t land in Whitehorse because of fog!

Nevertheless, the fog was really beautiful from overhead.  The sunlight was bouncing off the blanket of clouds in such a tantalizing way.  As the plane banked, the tips of our wings dipped into the clouds, and for a moment, I lost myself.  I was in a crazy, crazy headspace (I am starting to think 10 hours in a plane would be a good psychology test of some sort) and I was imagining that the wingtips were cones dipping into a vat of fluffy candy floss.  I was even imagining me fashioning some big long stick to slide out the window and hook a taste of the spun sugar.  Which was so weird considering I don’t even really like cotton candy!  Suddenly we dipped through the low clouds and suddenly we hit the runway and I snapped out of my circus concession stand day dream.

Suddenly, I had a list of things to do.  The captain had assured us during our descent that WestJet would take good care of us all, and that a customer service representative would meet us to sort out accommodations and flights and all that good stuff.  First, we’d need to claim our baggage and then head to the WestJet counter.

As I said a sappy goodbye to my wonder duo, Rochelle and Randall, I headed up the boarding bridge, wondering what the next few hours would hold for me.  More interestingly, however, I was very curious about what Marlaine had been doing all this time.  Marlaine is a “take charge” kind of person, who is very reassuring to have around in times of crisis.  I, of course, had not been able to communicate with her all this time, and all I could picture was her balancing the Starbucks latte and breakfast wrap she had promised to greet me with in one hand, while talking to the counter staff at the Whitehorse airport and texting me info with her free hand.  I would find out in a few short minutes when my phone powered up, whether I was right!  J

1 comment:

  1. Big thanks to Rochelle and Randall. It seems the ads about Westjet are correct. They do care.
    As long as you can get on and off the plane safely, flying really is a great experience. Especially when you diligently watch what is going on outside and inside the plane. Lots to see and experience. Good for you Kirsten. You are way ahead of the guy reading the newspaper. Love, Mom\